For Whom the Bell Tolls
By Kristin Geis, First United Methodist Church Historical Committee
This year marks the 150th birthday of the First United Methodist Church Bell. The First United Methodist Church, located downtown since 1860, on the corner of Church and State Streets, has had three buildings: the Frame Church (built in 1860), the Brick Church (built in 1887), and the current Stone Church (built in 1907). Since 1867, the Church Bell, believed to be the oldest Bell in Champaign County, has resided in all three of these buildings.
It was deemed important enough to move each time a new building was built. Can you imagine the work it must have taken to move a 1,000 pound Bell three times? Having seen the Bell, I can understand why they felt this Bell was worth the effort. It is fascinating to consider that this Bell, the oldest part of the current Church building, though it has been forgotten and neglected, still has the power to bring people together and to make us hope for the future.
When we began researching the history of the Bell, the first question many people asked was, “When are we going to fix it?” It has taken us three years, but we want to make that dream a reality. One gentleman pointed out, in his memory, this Bell is the only historical thing that has piqued the interest of all generations at First United Methodist Church. Some of you may have been privileged to hear the Bell ring when you were very young, and now our youth are asking when they will be able to hear it? We can currently reach beneath the Bell to swing the clapper, and hear the beautiful sound it makes. Yet, we know this sound is nothing in comparison to what we will hear if the Bell swings, as it was designed to, allowing the sound to resonate.
We have gathered estimates and know that it will cost $25,000 to restore the Bell. Based out of Ohio, Verdin Company is the leading Bell restoration company in the country. To restore the Bell, Verdin Company will send technicians to remove the yoke and A-frame stand and then make molds at their foundry. They will cast the molds in iron to produce exact replicas of the original. They will then replace the Bell wheel equipment; install a new pull rope and new toll hammer; and replace the headpiece, clapper, clapper springs, and the bolts on the Bell to ensure it will swing properly and give the Bell many more years of safe ringing. All work is fully warranted for a period of three (3) years.
When was the last time you saw youth so interested and excited about an aspect of History? The interest and desire is astounding. Imagine hearing this 150 year old Bell ringing again and knowing that you were a part of making that happen. Imagine future generations hearing the same Bell ring and being moved by the sound.
We are asking the community to stand with us to help restore this link with our past. We hope you will support us and help us reach our goal. Our youth are standing in line waiting for their turn to ring the Bell. Please help us make that happen!
There are two ways to give a tax deductible contribution-
Gifts can be made directly to: First United Methodist Church (Mailing address is 210 W. Church Street, Champaign, IL 61820). Please specify: THIS GIFT IS FOR THE BELL
A GoFundMe site has been set up for online giving- https://www.gofundme.com/FUMC-bell150